Networking Media Anthropology
Samuel Collins is teaching a seminar at Hanyang University (ERICA campus) as part of his Fulbright grant in South Korea and, as luck would have it, Matthew Durington is doing the same in Baltimore. The two of them resolved to network their courses together using some of the principles they espouse in Networked Anthropology (Routledge, 2014), combined with some new directions for their research. Among other challenges? The 1 day + 13 hour time difference.
It’s hard to find 2 cities more different than Seoul and Baltimore. Baltimore is a tertiary city, caught between larger, more affluent cities in the U.S. northeast. Seoul is by all accounts a global city–huge, awash with people and capital–a staggeringly complex phantasmagoria. And yet, both of these cities have been profoundly shaped by what we might call advanced capitalism. For Seoul, massive investment and government support have transformed the city into a kaleidoscope media space, a constantly online assemblage of images and spectacles where culture is already “culture content”: text, narrative and media to be bought or sold. Underdevelopment is already pre-packaged as “nostalgia”; labor migration and precarity as “multicultural tourism”. This is the terrain facing anyone who might want to present alternative visions of the city. For Baltimore, a massive lack of investment and government support have transformed the city into a space where entities attempt to navigate their way in the wake of a neoliberal malaise. That condition combines with a tense racial and socioeconomic landscape that produces an array of representations that often border on the stereotypical. Images and spectacles found in mass media historically and in networked media today create a representational burden of the city.
In this context, we determined our media anthropology needs to confront these hegemonies and start to work on presenting alternatives. Moving a media anthropology to a networked anthropology provides a further extension of possibilities. Collins decided to work with local understandings of place. Many of the students in his Media Anthropology course are originally from Seoul or Gyeonggi-do (the province that surrounds Seoul like a donut) and, for them, the area is more than varied spaces for consumption. Even if students find Seoul’s phantasmagoric spaces pleasurable, the goal here is to complicate those representations–to disturb them with community activism, with contestations over urban development. In Durington’s Media Anthropology course he decided to elaborate on multiple years of research in Baltimore City conducted by the Anthropology by the Wire project and past cohorts of students in urban anthropology courses at Towson University. A popular expression by the anthropology faculty at Towson University is to tell students that there is a great place just a few miles south of the campus called ‘Baltimore’ where the conditions of neoliberalism and the social issues they create are impacting a citizenry that they can actually engage through research. There is also the distinct possibility that they may have the opportunity to contribute to social justice issues by creating alternative representations of urban life in Baltimore through media they produce collaboratively.
First, Collins started with some of the technical questions: doing a tech survey to see what people had access to, opening up new accounts in social media, and running through the basics of a networked anthropology–including social network analysis. The class started with students’ own social networks.
(A smartphone network from a Hanyang student with labels removed. Made with Gephi.)
And then Collins started to interrogate the media that transects their personal networks–those popular or manufactured media practices that overdetermine presentations of the city by limiting them to exchange values: shopping districts, scenes from movies, tourist spectacles, bottled experiences of urban pleasures. Collins tried tag clouds of Flickr images in order to demonstrate these powerful inequalities. Doing searches for one neighborhood in Seoul (neighboring the long-contested U.S. military base in Yongsan)–Itaewon–yields very different associations if you search for “이태원” rather than “Itaewon.”
(A Flickr tag cloud made up of terms that are linked to “Itaewon”)
In order to help students assess the powerful media representing neighborhoods in Seoul as spaces for consumption, Collins had the class use “Storify,” a flexible platform for importing diverse social media and adding your own commentaries.
(A Storify presentation of media images of a prominent neighborhood in Gangnam, Seoul)
Since Storify is linked to Twitter, Collins had them tweet their stories.
(Tweet from Hanyag Media Anthropology student)
With the work of media assessment underway, Collins had the class begin building alternative representations. Then, Collins had the class work on mapping their own daily rounds through urban spaces through “sound maps” designed to defamiliarize routine spaces (and routine assumptions) by removing the spectatorial dimension of urban life in Seoul.
(Sound Mapping through pinning audio files to a Google Map)
Along with sounds maps, students interviewed each other and juxtaposed those recorded media to the mass media they were discovering.
(Life story interviews of Hanyang students)
So–After 8 weeks, Collins’s Media Anthropology class has collected media (television programs, newspapers, public relations), made media (videos, audio, maps), and circulated this through social media and analyzed some of this media through social network analysis and web analytics.
But how to put this together into a more ethnographic multimedia? Collins started a Tumblr blog for the media the class was making:
But there’s still something missing: a blog may be a place to collect and display a variety of multimedia, but the pieces remain unintegrated and the result mirrors the cacophony of media swirling around student’s lives. Moreover, how can Collins’s class communicate these ethnographic insights to their counterparts in Durington’s class?
The App Project
After conversations with Durington, Collins decided to make the class project in his Media Anthropology an app-building exercise. The ultimate goal is to make an app that is consonant with Collins’s and Durington’s vision for a networked anthropology, i.e., one that 1) links these media together; 2) while at the same time implying a public; 3) in such a way that this public can a) give their input; and b) ultimately shape the course of the app itself. As Durington and Collins discussed in their earlier posting, app development is following 2 stages: a wireframing phase where students are trying out a number of ideas and a prototyping phase involving ARIS, a flexible architecture for app development from University of Wisconsin at Madison.
As the class is entering the app prototype phase the two classes were introduced to one another. The gauntlet is thrown to Durington’s class through dual introductory videos where students are providing their twitter accounts and names while also ‘performing’. Let’s just say the Hanyang dance moves are much more advanced than the Towson repertoire at this point in the networked anthropology experiment.
(Screenshots of introduction videos made by the Hanyang and Towson classes)
Now that the challenge of which class can create the best app prototypes has been delivered from the Hanyang group, Towson students are beginning their exercises for a networked anthropology app building project. They are using the same background work as the Hanyang group by conducting a tech survey, creating social media accounts, running analytics and exploring various representations of Baltimore. This is primarily done through a content analysis of various media such as storify, google maps, flickr and the collective media archive of the Anthropology by the Wire website. Predominant imagery in this mediascape more or less confirm many of the dominant elements of the representational burden of Baltimore…pictures of trash, dilapidation and contextual comments on urban blight. There is also some dialogue about the Baltimore Ravens to top it off. The predominantly suburban population of Towson University embodied by the students has to confront their sentiments about these representations. Do they confirm or perhaps complicate perceptions of the city? Whereas many social media platforms become spaces for problematic representations of Baltimore to be found, there are subordinate media that lean toward a more nuanced view. Blog posts throughout the process are spaces of reflexive analysis for these opportunities.
(Storify search using term ‘Baltimore’)
(Exploring research maps made with Google maps and YouTube media)
(Flickr analysis of ‘Baltimore’ Tag)
(Representations of Baltimore through the Anthropology by the Wire project.)
(The Towson course blog site)
The Baltimore group is now undertaking the same final project of app development using POP and Aris that are discussed in previous posts this month. Both classes have started to ‘follow’ one another on social media as they develop their app projects posting their thoughts and exercises using the hashtag #HanyangTowson. The next phase is to map the contours of the shared analytics of the app building project as it develops and is shared between the two groups and beyond. So what do we hope to see from this burgeoning networked anthropology? The pedagogical aspects are obvious as the students in both classes build cross cultural communication, awareness of globalization,understanding how city spaces are interpreted and, perhaps, an acknowledgment that the college student demographic in both countries shares an ambivalence toward assigned coursework in college. Beyond pedagogy, we are also trying to demonstrate that a skill set of research methods, technology utilization and analytical skills can be gleaned from networked anthropology activities that are infinitely marketable for an anthropology degree. Finally, the opportunity to move this experience to an applied ethos and engagement of social justice will often emerge in work beyond the classroom in the urban space. Does the app building process enhance that even more? We shall find out. #HanyangTowson
This app building project is the latest ‘activity’ related to the book Networked Anthropology. Although it is not part of the published book, our website networkedanthropology.com is meant to serve as an ongoing extension of the book and a resource for our collaborators. We welcome you to join us as we forge ahead @networkedanthro